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Call, Raise, or Fold [IC]

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April 26th, 2012

9:37 PM

Down on the beaches, the crowds were pouring out. The people who wanted to celebrate the weekend one day early, the desperate, the young lovers. Given all things, Nick Cimitiere would rather be there - and he couldn't rule out that his business might take him there. But there were more pressing matters to attend to. The necromancer stalked through the back alleys of businesses and townhouses that served as connective tissue between the Boardwalk and Southside. Over the past few nights, there'd been a number of... "sightings" might be the best word. "Visions" if you believed, or "hallucinations" if you were a cynic. The witnesses, many of whom had had more than a few drinks, had described glowing, ephemeral beings moving through the neighborhood, either flying overhead or tearing through at great speed. One person, especially poetic under the influence, had described them as "more real than real."

Nick might have written it off as fancy... if not for Angela Zilani. A local medium of some repute, Zilani had been found dead in her apartment, seemingly burnt to death. The funny part was, nothing else had caught fire. She'd been the only target of something using a very controlled burn. It was safe to say that if these beings were responsible, they really didn't have the best of intentions.

It might have been folly to search all of the Boardwalk alone, looking for the first sign of phantom activity. Fortunately, Nick wasn't doing it alone. He pulled out a slate with three glyphs on it - representing his partners in the endeavor - and ran his fingers over the simple trinket, opening a line of communication.

"Things are dead out here. And not in the exciting way. Anything on your end?"

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Floating invisibly overhead, the specter known as Ghost Girl paused her flight, pulling back the hood of her tattered reaper's cloak as she shimmered into sight like something suddenly appearing out of the corner of one's eye. Bringing the talisman she'd received from Nick Cimitiere in front of her eyes, the teenage poltergeist frowned slightly as she considered the telekinetically suspended communication device and tried to remember how to operate it. "Hello? Is this-- okay, ha, there we go!" she spoke into the slate, her voice chipper. "I haven't seen anything spooky so far, nope!" The junior hero was thrilled to be asked along to help with the investigation, although she wasn't overly looking forward to running into whatever had burned Angela Zilani. Being a hero means doing the right thing even if you're scared, she reminded herself, resolutely jutting out her lip as she put her hood back up and continued her search.

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Dead Head was scrounging through the alleys, checking the dumpsters and drainage grates. Mutt was there, too, invisibly sniffing around the alley-facing windows in case something passed through the area. A woman's voice caught his attention: a attractive brunette passed by the mouth of the alley, caught in her own little world as she jabbered away on her cell. But something about her was familiar, and at the sight of her he suddenly felt a fluttering in his chest, as one might feel when they view their beloved in just the right light.

"Well that cain't be right..."

He placed a hand over his chest, then suddenly plunged it in. He rooted around for the offending bit, and after a moment drew out the communication runestone Cimitiere had given him. "Glad I can set this thing t'vibrate... hey! Ain't found nothin' yet, unless ya think it was a pyromanaic roach what done her in."

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Equinox leaned backwards in an alleyway, eyes seemingly closed. But in her head, she was casting her mystic senses out further and further, trying to find disturbances and anomalies inch by inch, yard by yard. In the corner of her mouth, a cigarette steadily burned away uninhaled, a long plume of smoke billowing forth from the increasing length of ash.

Almost absently, she pulled the talisman up from the thong around her neck, and tapped it on the wall she was leaning on. "Nothing notable yet," she said absently, mind still wandering half a mile away. "But early days yet. Haven't resorted to ritual magic..." She paused for a moment in thought. "Do I say 'over'?"

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"If you want to," said Nick as he scanned the street. "Not like we're in the military here." The street itself wasn't much of a sight, one of the small residential areas you got right off of the Boardwalk. Maybe a few bodegas, a hair salon or two... and the occasional fortune teller, like the one at the end of the street, neon sign still alight. Nick approached carefully, trying to look as casual a man all dressed in black with skull makeup could. "There's a palm reader's store on this street. Still open. Maybe we should consider asking the local readers. See if they knew anything about --"

The little reverie was cut off by the sound of breaking glass. He could've sworn it came from inside the shop. "Never mind," he said, "I'm at 205A LaGrange. Think there's something serious going on in the shop." He tried the door - locked. But that was easy to fix. "Open," he commanded to the lock in the voice of rust. It clicked quickly, the door opening for him. He heard voices as he slid in, voices that spoke to dirty business.

"You've got the cards?"

"Yeah, and the book, too. You sure that's all?"

"Look..." A woman's voice this time, desperation thick. "I'm paid up this month. If this is about --"

"Not about that. Keep quiet, and this won't hurt... much."

Nick ripped open the beaded curtain, coming face-to-face with three goons in cheap suits holding a woman in what could charitably be called "Gypsy chic" at gunpoint. "Robbing palmisters, huh?" he said. "What, were the lemonade stands giving you too much trouble?"

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Sailing through the air above the buildings, Ghost Girl took a minute to make sure she was floating over the address Nick had given before flitting back into view moments before dropping down through the ceiling. She could have easily entered the building invisibly and undetected but judging from the way the tattered edges of her billowing reaper's cloak slid into the room like dripping oil, followed by a face completely concealed in the ominous shadows of her hood, either Equinox's showmanship or Dead Head's odd sense of humour was rubbing off on her. "The dead enjoy no lemonade," she intoned in an unnaturally echoing voice which was thankfully more intimidating than her ill advised attempt at sounding enigmatic.

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In a flash of ozone and white light, Equinox appeared behind Nick. Air whipped up and tossed her coat around, white light blazing forth from her eyes. A ribbon of fire coiled and snaked about her, emanating from the wand she was spinning in a figue of eight in one hand. And her feet weren't touching the ground, dust kicked up beneath her as the wind held her aloft.

Imperiously, she raised her head to gaze dispassionately at the crooks. "Fie, caitiffs!" she said in a near-inhumanly distorted voice. "This shall not be your day."

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Heavy footfalls echoed behind Nick, accompanied by the scrape of metal on wood floor. The smells of tobacco and spices and rum filled the small shoppe, overpowering whatever cheap incense the fortune teller had, undercut with the faintest hints of rot and decay. Twin pinpoints of baleful green flame bobbed about in the darkness, but as they neared the assemblage they could see the cadaverous face in whose eyesockets they rested in. Tall and tattered, dragging a metal shovel behind it in one seemingly dislocated left arm, the thing's jaw fell open

"Brrraaaiiinnnsss...."

It raised its right arm, curled its empty hand until only one crooked index finger remained extended, and pointed at the would-be robbers. Its brow furrowed slightly, and the eerie flames in its eyes flared a bit higher.

"Y'all've used yer brains for evil, and now they is mine!"

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"What the f**k is a caitiff?" asked one of the goons. He seemed to be the only one with the foresight to ask, however, as his friends were backing into the corner, their hands darting under their jackets.

'Now, now," Nick said, "we don't want anyone to get hurt... and by 'anyone,' we mean 'you guys.' So I recommend you get your hands out of there and up in the --"

Nick's command was interrupted when one of the would-be assailants began to glow. A thin, white corona enveloped him, and he seemed to be the last one to pick up on it, looking down at his hands with a mixture of panic and entrancement. His colleagues began to glow with the same strange light; the screams followed, more out of fear than pain. Suddenly, the men... Nick reached for a team. "Unfolded" would be the best. Their clothes, their skins, their very beings faded away, and in the half-second before the light winked out, Nick swore he saw something fundamental.

Then it was gone, and in the place of the goons were three... things, made half of light and half of flesh. One was an androgynous being wrapped in a silver shawl, a bright white circle hanging behind its head. Another stood on a chariot of brass, two black horses gnawing at its bit. And the last stretched its phantom wings in the cramped apartment, clutching a long horn of bone in its hands.

"...well. That's one hell of a party trick."

"We have been called," said the rider in the chariot. "Drawn from underneath. Pinned to this task by the first. You shall not stand against us."

"Can't say I've heard that one before. I'd like to --"

The chariot sped forward, moving too fast to even track. In the second before it made contact, Nick could see a gladius in the rider's hand. The sword rained down on Nick in a flurry of blows... all of which bounced right off of his jacket. The rider brought the chariot to a halt, staring at his sword as if it were broken.

"My turn."

Cold blue light erupted from Nick's fingers, soaring towards the rider in a pale orb. It brushed the side of his head, and wrapped around it like a blanket. The rider screamed as the phantom blaze tore at his thoughts, trying desperately to hold the reins.

"What deck did they pull you from?"

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Oh, this cain't be good. 'specially that feller there.

The revenant was focused on the vaguely angelic one holding the horn of bone. Dead Head brought his shovel up, holding it much like a baseball bat. "I don't know what any of y'all are, but you look like some kinda angel o' death. 'Cept I's pretty sure that ain't what ya is, else my skin'd be crawlin' even more'n usual. An' that talk 'bout bein' called from 'underneath' ain't fillin' me with warm fuzzies, neither, sooo..."

With surprising speed the revenant struck out with his shovel, landing a solid blow on the luminous being's solar plexus. Or whatever passed for such on it.

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The "angel" reacted rather strongly to being struck in the gut, its wings quivering as it fought for breath. "Not from the realms of decay," said the being in the shawl as it stepped forward. "From potential. From the shadows of all things. We tell, and are told. We foresee, and are foreseen." The white circle behind its head flared, shedding moonrise all over the store. "And you can be read like a book."

Before Dead Head's eyes, the thing in the shawl clapped its hands. In his head, the room darkened, until all but the being in the shawl was left. The shawl wrapped over it, growing dimmer and dimmer as the flesh raced from its features, until he was looking at the Grim Reaper itself. It drew a scythe from the folds of the robe, flying forward. "Found you..."

The blade struck him hard, cutting deeper than reality, surging through his very self...

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Hey! You an' me had an agree- HURK!

As the spectral blade went through Dead Head's spirit, Mutt, the revenant's faithful crossroads dog, bound into the scene, rising up from the floorboards in an eerie mirror to Ghost Girl's descent through the ceiling. He snarled at the trio of luminous beings, before launching a series of vicious, foam-flecking barks at them. Its head darted from one being to the next so fast that it left eerie after-images, and at one point bore a passing resemblance to a spectral version of Cerberus.

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"H-hey! Cut that out!" Ghost Girl demanded as the shawl wrapped figure began doing something to Dead Head, prompting an angry response from Mutt. The specter had absolutely no idea what was going on with the robbers and the screaming and what looked an awful lot like what would happen if her friend Koshiro decided to use people instead of paper for his origami projects but everyone else seemed to be going along with it for the moment and she didn't want to be the odd one out. Diving into the floorboards, she spun about and surged back up about the Moon's feet, swiping with a deathly frigid immaterial hand. Unfortunately her timing was a bit off and she came into the room a little too far to the left. "Oh, jams! Stay still!"

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Equinox had stood back slightly from the brawl, wand held out perpendicular to her body, the tip glowing incandescent white and blue with heat. Her fine control was really, really good, but in a packed melee, that still wasn't always good enough. Hurling around explosive fire, tsunami waves and ripping the earth asunder was never going to be the easiest way to avoid collateral damage and friendly fire.

But finally, she found her angle, and aimed a lance of flame at the chariot, a searing gout of heat and light which exploded into a small fireball upon impact.

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The blast caught the rider upside the head, nearly knocking him from his mount. His helmet glowed bright red for a few seconds, and his horses screamed in fright. "You cannot kill us," he said. "We are not these shells. We are the secret names of this world, the writing upon the firmament. We are --"

"Real pretentious, I got it," Nick said. Ectoplasm seeped out onto his hands, wrapping around into crude claws that Equinox and Dead Head were quite familiar with. "You have any idea how many times I've dealt with possessing entities with a gigantic ego? I find a lot of you guys tend to get the hell out of town once your ride pops a flat."

He entered a boxer's stance and took a wide swing at the moon-clad being, but the being was much faster, dodging out of the way and leaving a phantom trail as it passed. "For that to work..." It let out a terrible smile. "First you have to hit us..."

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The moon raised its veil, cloaking its alien face. Like a whip, the veil lashed out towards Nick, and to the other Midnighters, it seemed to stream right into his head. Nick saw none of this; the room had faded away for the banks of the River Styx. The banks were emptier of souls than usual, and everything was horribly still. At least, until Nick heard the rattling of chains behind him.

"You got away..."

Nick spun around to see Thanatos, dread chains held in his hands - and threaded through his flesh. Before he could raise his hands in defense, the chain flew out, sinking into his chest. "You stay now..."

Before he could cry out, the vision faded, leaving him back in the palmister's apartment. He felt blood running down his nose; that little hallucination had had some tangible effect. Meanwhile, the broken angel was flying towards Equinox, horn raised towards its lips.

"We see all that you are," it said, "and all that you will be. And what we truly see... is how futile it all is."

A dry breath creaked past its lips, and shuddered through the room as it blew on the end of the horn. Thunder wrapped around the experienced witch, and she tried to keep her composure as the end of the world played out in her ears.

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Ghost Girl spiraled upward close to the ceiling as she tried to regain a sense of what was happening in the melee below. Equinox managed to land a solid hit on one of the bizarre card-men but on the whole the fight didn't seem to be going well as far as the phantom could tell, her hooded head whipping back and forth as she watched Nick take a nasty counter attack and the creature with the horn blasted a dreadful noise. WhatdoIdowhatdoIdowhatdoI... The poltergeist's eyes widened with indecision before abruptly narrowing, the pupils fading out into blue-tinted milky white as she reflexively sniffed the air in a predatory fashion. Their foes might not have been entirely of this world, but she could smell the fear of their host bodies, buried beneath whatever had transformed them so violently, sickly sweet and dense with shabbily hidden secrets.

Floating to the middle of the room, her form flickered and warped, her reaper's cloak billowing outward and lengthening as she lost her youthful appearance in favour of something porcelain and timeless, the flawless, terrible features of something that did not belong on this side of the veil. Cold radiance poured from her in waves of light that threatened to freeze eyelids open and helplessly staring. She hung there silently for a beat, then another, until every eye was upon her. The with the suddenness of something appearing in the corner of one's eye, her perfect skin tightened about bone, forming skeletal hands and empty sockets, the undeniable visage of death shrieking horribly as it cast its empty gaze across the room. "SRKEEEE!"

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"Nick!," the revenant cried out, already bounding away from his own attacker; the wound the 'possessed' thug had inflicted was already closed up. He whirled his shovel around, raising it at the figure who'd hurt his fellow Midnighter; as his swing reached its apex, his lips curled back and jaw distended, and a terrible howl blasted the 'possessed' thug, just before the shovel's head came down. The mournful dirge made worse by the fetid stink of rotted meat and old blood on the revenant's breath (an enhancement his team knew was not due to a change in diet, but just something he called up from a netherworld).

Like a hound after a speeding mail truck, a snarling Mutt was on the fleeing thug Ghost Girl had spooked. He leaped into the air to sink his fangs into the enhanced thug's leg, intending to knock him down in the process. The Legba-hound's aim was true, and he got a big maw full of leg, but the thug was fast, and mist prove able to wrench free.

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Equinox instinctively moved her hands to cover her ears, the muffling of the horrifying sounds flooding her ears letting her fight off the nausea they inspired long enough to roll with the blow and not lose her focus. Similarly, Ghost Girl's assuming of the visage of death didn't phase her. She had no real fear of death, especially not when she knew it was just a somewhat excitable ghost of a young woman.

But she did know if they didn't end this soon, they might be in real danger of harm. So, with a cry of "Cesset dolis! Domina cogunt vos!" She surged forward on a blast of wind, wand lengthening and sharpening into a metal blade even as she swung it in a vicious two handed arc down upon Judgement's trumpet. "Gladium Cernunnos!"

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The sword cut through Judgment's trumpet like it was a cheap noise maker, and managed to carve a good chunk from his raiment in the same swing. Underneath the clothing of magic, Equinox could see the thug, hanging suspended in mid-air like a marionette. For a second, the image of the avenging angel faded in and out, like a television signal through heavy static... before resolving to clearer than ever.

"I am not so impermanent," it hissed. "I am at the base of all things, the root of all --"

"You know..."

The angel turned to see Nick Cimitiere racing towards him, dread talons outstretched. The claws dug deep, reopening the wounds in its phantasmal form that Equinox's sword had made. "For someone so important, you really have to talk yourself up. Show, don't tell."

The image began to flicker again, as the grim angel struggled for composure. Letting out a moan like a dying trumpet, its form collapsed into a storm of phantom cards that flew on the wind before crumbling to ash. In its place stood the thug, who fell to the floor with a solid thud.

"Anyone else want to double down?"

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Face still distorted horribly, Ghost Girl surged into the air over Moon, cloak flapping violently in a non-existent gale as she loomed over the distressed and possessed thug. The poltergeist's chin stretched even further in an inhuman expression as she took a deep breath and exhaled a wintery blast of frigid air straight down. The blizzard's fury rolled across the the floor of the room but the brunt of it washed over Moon specifically, entrapping ice pinning feet to floorboard and arms to sides. Finally she closed her eyes for a moment as she resumed her youthful, less terrifying appearance, using both hands to work her jaw back into it's proper place. "I told you to stay still," she noted huffily.

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"Great work!," the Revenant called out with a smile to Ghost Girl as her target was encased in supernatural ice. Before she could react to his praise, he was dashing off with frenetic speed towards the Chariot, whom Mutt was still harrying.

"Nick here's got the right of it," he hissed at the strange figure, "y'all sure do talk a big game, but when it come down to puttin' up, well..." Dead Head swung his shovel around lazily, once, twice, then whipped it around and brought it around to slam into the Chariot's midsection, hoping to drive the wind from the host and drive the possessing force away. "Normally I try an' go gentle on folks what's possessed, but since y'all were robbin' this lady when it happened, I'm willin' t'make an exception."

Bad man taste weird, Dead Head heard over the link he shared with his faithful Legba-Hound.

I'm sure he does, boy, it's probably just the mojo in 'im.

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Equinox nodded at Ghost Girl's freezing in place of the Moon-possessed. "Good," she said approvingly. "But we should make sure there's not going to be a breaking free."

She strode towards the prone figure, levelling her wand as she went. "Venusium," she said calmly, as roots and vines burst out of the floor in small, neat, round holes, thickening once free and effortlessly snaking through, around and over the icy prison the Moon was being held in, tightening and binding even more.

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The phantasmal image of the Chariot flew apart on strands on gossamer, once more leaving an unconscious thug on the floor, his face locked in an expression like he'd seen much of eternity in one go. That just left the Moon - which quickly found itself wrapped up in ice and vines, unable to move but still projecting an air of menace. "We are more than this," it snarled at Nick. "We will return --"

"Which means you're already to go," he said. Phantasmal talons descended down, cutting through the twin bonds and plunging right into the heart of the phantom. Its form unfurled, and in the trails of ephemera, Nick thought he got a half-second glimpse of something... more. Of everything. He blinked, and it was gone, leaving nothing but another knocked out thug sprawled on the ground. With the goon squad taken out, Nick went off in search of the fortune teller. He found her crouched in the back room, holding a stun gun in one hand and poised to spring for the door. She raised it as Nick entered, but lowered it just as quickly when she saw who it was. "What were those things?"

"Not sure. I know what they were putting on, but... those are some damn strange masks."

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Equinox pensively stroked her chin. "Those guys looked confused when their mojo kicked off. And they acted differently. And, worse, their masks disappeared after defeating them."

She turned to the group. "I think this indicates possessing spirits, controlled by something unseen. Which means we've probably not seen the last of them. Nick, Dead Head, you've more experience in possession than me." She inclined her head at her two male teammates. "Do you think that's a possibility?"

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